As pre-teens, living in Oakville, Brandon Dougan and his younger brother Ryan developed quite the affinity for flag football, with both seen as key offensive weapons on their respective teams.
Some thirty years later, with Ryan at quarterback of the Steel City Patriots and Brandon making his final NFC appearance after spending ten or so years in the league, the Dougans would connect, one final time, recording a touchdown against the Sudbury Spartans in what would be an all-too-fitting completion to the playing days of the eldest sibling.
Yet this but touches the tip of the football iceberg for the local player turned coach who leaves a lengthy tenure at the helm of the Confederation Chargers to begin a new challenge come the fall of 2020.
"I was a small kid, but in grade nine, as a 14-year-old, we could still play flag football," recalled Brandon Dougan recently. "My best friend was the quarterback, I was the receiver, and we did really well. It was a lot of fun."
It was also a way to compete in a game that he loved. Realistically, Dougan suggested his field time would have been minimal if he had opted to suit up with the Queen Elizabeth Park junior tackle team that year. The additional confidence garnered in flag came in handy as he attended spring workout sessions, with full contact, knowing that his family had already committed to a return to Sudbury that fall.
"Grade ten was my first year of tackle football, I was at Lo-Ellen, and we were good," recalled Dougan. "Brian Savage was our quarterback. We lost to St Charles in the semi-finals."
The somewhat undersized but skilled athlete had come to believe that he could survive, perhaps prosper, in an environment that often rewarded bigger and stronger kids. After two years with the junior Knights, Dougan would really make a name for himself with the Paris Street Blues, a merged high-school team from multiple institutions, an experience that paved the way for his first taste with the Spartans.
"I started playing Spartans after my grade 11 year - I hadn't even played a senior high-school football game yet," admitted the native Sudburian who moved frequently in his youth, but settled up north, eventually earning a spot on multiple NFC all-star teams over the years. "I was 16, going on 17, and those guys, the older guys, they took care of me."
"I may have touched the ball maybe four times in a game that first year. I got to see a lot of stuff; it opened my eyes pretty wide."
Playing one year with a struggling Carleton Ravens team, Dougan returned home to complete his Law & Justice degree at Laurentian, following that up with honours in Criminology at St Mary's in Halifax. Between two years with the Huskies of the AUS and some very special seasons with the Spartans in the early 1990s, the young man with the soft hands and a mind for the game would find a way to excel.
"There's a lot of parts to the game that I like," said Dougan. "I like the mental part. I think I do well, thinking on my feet pretty quickly, when it comes to football, being able to anticipate things. I had to be that way. It was that, or I wasn't going to play, or I was going to get hurt."
"I'm not the fastest guy," he added. "I'm pretty quick, quick feet, but my straight away speed is not there. And most of the DBs (defensive backs) in Oakville and Brampton were faster and bigger than me - but I can set-up players."
"I had to know where the safety is, where the halfback is and where the corner is. I had to be able to do that to get open. If I don't, I'm going to get hit really hard."
Mind you, it didn't hurt that during at least some of his time with the Spartans, Dougan could count on a pivot who was at least the equivalent of most of what he had seen in the university ranks. "In 1989, Paul Gauthier stepped in for the second half of the season - that's when I realized what a university arm was."
"Paul was a true quarterback, with a cannon of an arm. It was hurting my hands when I was catching the ball. He wasn't throwing sixty-yard bombs, but his 15-20 yard outs and curls were laser beams, and that's what you wanted as a receiver."
Back to back NFC championships (1991-1992) were particularly memorable, as much for the fact that storied Sudbury head coach Sid Forster had accepted the need to open up the offense, with the likes of Gauthier and fellow QB Trevor Hains taking full advantage to pick apart opposing defenses with an arsenal that included Dougan, Dave St Amour and John Miller, among others.
It was shortly thereafter that Dougan got his first real taste of coaching, joining forces with his brother Ryan, fellow Spartan Richard Eldridge and friend Monica Bretzlaff at the helm of the Lockerby Vikings girls flag football team during his time at L.U.
His return to the coaching ranks, however, would come another five to six years down the road, spurred on by a relatively last-minute decision to attend Teacher's College at Presque Isle University in Maine. "I was really happy I went," said Dougan. "It was a small town, only about a thousand kids at the university."
"I played on their contact club hockey team and travelled all over Maine. It was a lot of fun."
It also opened the door to a teaching placement at Lo-Ellen, where he would join the ranks of those mentoring young Sudbury high-schoolers in football, winning a city crown before making his way to the Valley and the Chargers. "As soon as I got into teaching, I knew that I wanted to coach," he said.
Almost twenty years later, Dougan looks back upon his time at Confederation Secondary. "I take the most pride in being able to keep that program going at Confed - it wasn't easy. There was not a lot of help. Thank god for the Gudries (Steve, Trevor, Curtis). If it wasn't for those guys and a few others, I don't know what I would have done."
Change, at times, can help recharge the batteries. Brandon Dougan is hoping so, as he looks to immerse himself with the Lasalle Lancers come this September. "I get to help start a program that has been struggling a little bit and try and bring it back," he said. "There is nothing more satisfying than to start something and see it improve, year after year."
Mind you, bookending his football playing days, with his brother, comes awfully darn close.